Play Bigger: A book review by Bob Morris

Play BiggerPlay Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets
Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney
HarperBusiness/An Imprint of HarperCollins (June 2016)

How to achieve and then sustain a competitive advantage in almost any marketplace

In this book, Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney explain how almost any company can dominate its competitive marketplace. Category design is one of the key concepts that they examine. What is it? “Category design is about creating a new space and ecosystem for an innovation. An innovation without category design wins you a Techcrunch award.

“Innovation with category design turns you into a powerful, enduring business. Disruption is a by-product of creating a new category that happens to suck the life out of an old category — the way’s cloud-based software emasculated the on-premise CRM software industry. But plenty of great new categories don’t disrupt anything. Airbnb didn’t disrupt hotels. Hotels are doing fine. Disruption should never be a goal. Create something great, and it disrupts, well then you get the Disruptor merit badge.

“Category design is the discipline of creating and developing a new market category and conditioning the market so it will demand your solution and crown your company as its king.” More specifically, here are what specifically category design is and does:

o It drives the company’s strategy to become a category king.
o Involves product and ecosystem design.
o Is part of a company culture.
o Is about creating a powerful and provocative story that causes customers to make a choice.
o Is marketing, public relations, and advertising in combined/cohesive/collaborative focus

“Above all, category design is making all of these components work together, in lockstep, feeding off each other, so each action builds momentum for both the category and its king. In that sense, category is like a musical score for a symphony. Just as every part of the orchestra needs to play the same score together, every part of the company needs to execute category design together.” Ramadan, Petterson, Lochhead, and Maney explain HOW all this can be accomplished.

As I worked my way through their narrative, I was reminded of another recently published book, The Three-Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation, in which Vijay Govindarajan introduces a comparable approach to problem solving. Here’s the paradigm:

Box 1: Optimize the current business.
Box 2: Let go of the values and resources that fuel the current business but fail the new one.
Box 3: Invent a new business model.

“Success in each box requires a different set of skills, attitudes, practices, and leadership.” Success also requires seamless coordination of initiatives in each box to achieve the aforementioned objectives. For example, if the company is not functioning at peak efficiency (in Box 1), it will lack sufficient resources and commitment to build its future (in Box 2), and complete the transition to the future (in Box 3). Just as Boxes 2 and 3 must be protected, Box 1 must remain focused and undistracted. Moreover, with the three boxes kept in proper balance, a business can change dynamically over time. Yes, there are differences between this approach and the one proposed in Play Bigger but both have the same objective: achieve and then sustain competitive advantage.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of co-authors’ coverage in Parts I-II (Chapters 1-7):

o Legendary Questions, and, True Stories of Kings and Kingdoms (Pages 3-9)
o Category Kings Defined (9-13)
o Introducing Category Design (18-21)
o Bad Category Design: A Cautionary Tale (21-24)
o Why Categories (27-42)
o A Category Crowns a King (46-49)
o Great Category Design in World History (50)
o What the Hell Is Category Design? (51-56)
o The Ol’ Frotos (From/Tos): (59-65)
o The Courage of Category Design (65-68)
o Inspiration to Insight (71-78)
o Insight to Category (78-86)
o Insight to Category The Story That’s Not Original (86-89)
o Timing in a POV Is…Well, Not Everything, but Close, and Expressing Your POV (106-112)
o Reality Bites Implementing Category Design (123-127)
o Implementing Category Design (127-131)
o Stories of Gravity (140-146)
o The Play Bigger Guide to Mobilization (145-148)
o How to Get Attention (149-152)
o What a Lightning Strike Does to Brains (155-157)
o Hijacks and Hijinks (161-166)
o The Play Bigger Guide to Strikes, Hijacks, and Attention Grabbing (166-169)

Ramadan, Peterson, Lochhead, and Maney provide an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that – together –provide just about everything C-level executives need to create and develop a new market category and condition that market so it will demand their solution and crown their company as its king.

Where to begin? My suggestions: First, re-read Play Bigger, then recruit 5-8 others to form a “Sprint” team such as the ones created at Google to achieve high-impact results with innovative thinking. Whoever leads the group should read Jake Knapp’s Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, written with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz. Those who question what a few people can accomplish should consider this observation by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


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